Monday, March 9, 2015

Spot the Reindeer and Cous Cous the Hedgehog

I was surprised today to see that Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan is featuring a "What I Want You to Know" piece I sent her months and months ago.  And wouldn't you know it, the only thing I've written on my own blog lately is about the exact same topic--dealing with the Winemaker's depression.  That felt sort of awkward to me--if anyone clicks over here from there, I sure sound like a one track record.  (Boy, I just dated myself with that simile.)  So in the spirit of proving that there are other things in life, I bring you...

stuffies!  The one on the left is Puppy, and the one on the right is Spot.  These two were among the first dozen or so of the numerous stuffed animals my kids have.  I can't even guess what the grand total is.  60?  Five million?  Somewhere in there.  My kids have big stuffies, small stuffies, gift stuffies, bought-at-Goodwill-with-allowance-please-don't-have-bedbugs stuffies, and the occasional I-saved-my-allowance-for-weeks-so-I-could-get-a-special-toy-but-I-fell-in-love-with-this-stuffed-animal-at-the-store-instead stuffies.  The most recent addition being Cous-Cous Sushi G. the Hedgehog.   Cous-Cous is in the last listed category.  Oak saved up a whopping $20, $1.50 at a time, and was all set to replenish his bullet-less nerf gun.  On the way out of Target, he spotted the roly-poly hedgehog, and the bullets were returned to the shelf.  

When the number of stuffies seems closer to five million than to any reasonable amount of stuffed animals for two children, all I have to do is listen to my son talk to one of his animals.  "Hi there, Cous-Cous," he says gently in the back seat of the car.  "My name is Oak.  We're going to be your family now.  What do you like to eat?"  At night when his dad lies down with him, they will each pick up a stuffy and "be" them.  Their favorites have distinct personalities.  Spot tends to turn any conversation toward whether or not there will be fresh grass available.  Tiny and Sparkles, two huge dogs, like to sneak downstairs at night to raid the fridge, although Sparkles is a vegetarian.  Fluffy Buffalo likes to play hide-and-seek with Seal. 

Interestingly, where Oak is more consistently tender with his animals than with any people, Linden tends to be harsher on hers.  Our sweet and compliant child will threaten, punish, and spank her animals for imaginary infractions.  I guess they are both working different things out with their safest friends.  She can also play kindly with them, of course.  She creates elaborate stories with all her horses, plastic and soft.  She doesn't anthropomorphize them quite as much as her brother, but both panic when I suggest passing a few one, especially if they are going to acquire more.  At some point I will have to put my foot down and insist on a one-in-one-out rule, but I don't have the heart to yet.  For kids who were starved of affection for so many years, having so very many creatures to love is something of a miracle.  

Besides, Spot is part of the family now.  I've been known to pick fresh green grass when I'm out to bring home for him as a special treat.  What can I say?  When he tilts his head just so, I am putty in his hooves.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

You Know You're Screwed When They Start Bringing You Casseroles

What I'm dealing with right now is pretty much what I've been dealing with for the last year and a half or so.

*Changes in my job that should be exciting and energizing, except that the increased focus on evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores means that my love of teaching the "hard" kids is affecting my job performance ratings, which stresses me out and takes my focus off mastering the new developments and curriculum I should be working on.

*One kid who loves me to pieces and can't go to sleep unless I'm home in the evening, and who has trouble giving me personal space when we're both in the same room.

*One kid who struggles mightily with rules, friendship, reading, remembering, and sitting.  Who went from ELD to IEP to BED classroom.  Whose moods are unpredictable and for whom various medications seem to have no effect on.

*One husband who is severely depressed, which means
  1. I worry about his well-being.
  2. He spends a lot of time in bed and/or hiding behind screens, leaving a lot of parenting and general running of the house to me even though I am the sole breadwinner of the family.
  3. He needs my time and attention as much as the kids do.
He has also developed a serious noise sensitivity issue meaning our kids' normal voices sound like screaming to him, and their noisy voices make him either hide in the room or make them go outside to play.  Basically, he spends a lot of time either avoiding or scolding the kids, and very little time having positive interactions with them.

He feels so crappy about all of this that he has trouble believing I would actually care about him.  He feels worthless and full of despair.  So much so that last weekend I took him up to the hospital and told them I was concerned for his safety.  Now he is in an outpatient psychiatric program for the next month.  Being the eternal optimist that I am, I am hopeful now he will get the help he needs to make the changes that will improve his life.

But really, other than the fact that the Winemaker is at this program during the day while they kids are at school, our situation looks and feels very much like it has for a long time now.

And yet, in the past week...
My "work spouse" brought us a casserole and salad.
My mother-in-law has babysat the two days our son was out of school so the WM could still go to his class.
My sister came by the other day with food for two meals plus snacks, had a picnic lunch with me and the kids, and then did my dishes.
Another friend brought us homemade cinnamon rolls and strawberries this morning and sat and talked with me over coffee. 
My other two sisters have called to check in repeatedly.

And it is helpful.  Getting the jumpstart on my kitchen spiraled into me actually vacuuming the damn floor for the first time since removing the Christmas tree (which, granted, was a long time after Christmas).  Having food brought in helps not only in the basic "yay, food" sense, but also takes off some mental pressure.  Having people come to my house, not judge its state, and sit and chat with me makes me realize how hard it is for me to socialize right now, with my family needing me so much. 

We are getting all this support right now because we are "having a crisis."  Yet actually, I think we're in a more hopeful place than we've been in a long time.  Seeing our life through others' eyes makes me realize that we've been living, not having, a crisis for awhile now.   No wonder I sleep too much, eat too much, and lose my shit too often.  No wonder I'm not able to put enough energy into my classroom  in order to do the job I think I should be doing.  No wonder my house is a mess, my kids are glued to screens, and I am incapable of reading anything besides YA fantasy.  People are bringing me casseroles, and I'm all, "But this is just how my life is.  Why do I get food just because we're trying to do something about it now?" 

Or maybe the question is, "Why the hell didn't I ask for help before?"

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Well, this is embarrassing.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: prep lessons for the next day.

What I do: fall asleep in my kid's bed, wake up groggy at 11:30 pm, and stumble into my own bed.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: Have an elegantly sophisticated glass of red wine.

What I do:  Make two chocolate mug cakes, one for me and one for my husband.  Eat one.  Eat the other one.  Hide the evidence.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed:  Read.

What I do: Circle an endless loop of Facebook, email, and Dumpaday humor sites.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: Meditate and do yoga.

What I do:  Watch "Continuum" on Netflix.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: Write a blog post.

What I do:  Read blog posts.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: Reclaim my own time.

What I do: Fritter away the only unstructured part of my day.

This "blog post" was written as part of Finish the Sentence Friday.  The prompt was "When the kids go to bed, I..."  Link up here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Oak has had some really bad days lately.  When I say "lately," I mean for the past six months.  Since school started, really, which is why he is now at a different school with a behavior classroom, so when he freaks the freak out, the adults can handle it, instead of it throwing off an entire classroom.

I have had some really bad evenings during this time period.  Like, he freaks the freak out, and my reptile brain goes, "Oh yeah?  You think THAT'S nuts?  I'll show you NUTS, buddy!"  And then we are both freaking out, and Linden goes into super-charmer mode, and the Winemaker hides in the bedroom, unless things get really wonky, in which case he emerges and takes over, and I run outside and cry and hate myself.

In other words, my family is highly disfunctional right now.  And our social worker is due for a visit.  Yay.

Two nights ago we had a bedtime freakout.  Yesterday he did okay at school, and continued to do okay through the evening.  Today he did FANTASTIC at school, and is very cheerful and cooperative and interactive now that we're all home.

I was thinking to myself, "It's the calm before the storm," and "It's not like this will last," and super positive and helpful things like that, because I am just that good at therapeutic parenting.  But then it hit me--

If he is out of control 50% of the time--which is a really high estimate, honestly--but in control 50% of the time, it is just as realistic to say, "Oh, he'll bounce back from this," or "This is just a hard day," when things are going crappy.  Instead of nay-saying the positive times, I can work instead to not let the negative times become what I define as normal.

Take THAT, reptile brain!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Faux poem. Fauxetry?

I just came across this poem while cleaning out computer files. I wrote this about four years ago, when I had to have an ultrasound to determine what was going on with this month-long period I was having. I've never been pregnant, so it was my first ultrasound, and we were early in our adoption journey, so I was not entirely sure I'd ever even be a mom. (It turned out to be just a peri-menopausal anomaly.) I'm no poet, because whenever I try to write poetry, I find myself writing prose with weird line breaks instead. But for the same reason I felt compelled to attempt this poem, I kind of like the result. Here it is. 

When I first realized I was an adult,
I was so pleased.
Walking down a city street in a strange land,
carrying a sack of groceries
purchased with money I’d earned myself.
A few years later, another sign.
The twelve-year old looks up trustingly from her desk
and asks me to feel her forehead
to see if she has a fever.  
Becoming an adult
is what you spend childhood preparing for
(especially those of us
who spend our adolescence rolling our eyes at our classmates’ antics).

But now it seems that time
insists on carrying me along
in her relentless march.

My mother gone
too soon for her, with projects started in her studio
seeds ordered for the garden
talk of a camping trip next summer.
Too soon for me as well.
I still need her guidance.
“How do I do this?”
I want to ask
as I lay on the table while the technician
rolls a wand over my belly.
She peers at the screen, not looking for a telltale tail
but just to determine if this unending ellipses of a period
is merely my body giving up on fertility in yet another way
or the sign of something more malignant.
This ultrasound won’t become my profile picture
won’t be posted on my fridge
at best, it signals hormone therapy and hot flashes.
“How do I do this?”
I want to ask Mom,
veteran of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer.
But when I get home, feeling forlorn,
there’s no Mom to call.

So I find comfort in some chocolate
and the nook of my husband’s neck.
Younger than me, but feeling his age as well.
Twelve years without his father,
and the young bucks during harvest season reaching over to help with the heavy loads.
How do we do this?  It keeps getting harder.
And our foundations have disappeared.

So we do what they did.

We lean on each other.  We keep going.  

Monday, November 17, 2014


I hear so many good things about meditation.  So!  Many!  And let's face it, I need all the help I can get.  There is enough stress in my life that I've gained fifty pounds in a year and can hardly turn my neck for all the tension I hold there.   I have been trying to meditate somewhat regularly (i.e. a couple times a week, except for when it's a couple times a month, or three days in a row).

I found an awesome website called that offers free guided meditation in 2, 5, 10, and 20 minute intervals.  I can get the kids to sit with me for the 2 minute one, and on good days they will ask if we can do a 5 minute one.  It is easier to meditate when you are calm than when you are stressed.  (Is that irony?  Ever since people started mocking Alanis Morissette I've been nervous about using that term in public.)  A five minute meditation session usually consists of about 4 minutes of my thoughts racing all over the place and one minute of dozing off.  I've also read that going to sleep during meditation is a sign that you are hiding from the work you need to do.  I suspect it's more that I'm tired, but there's no reason why it couldn't be both.

But it still feels good.  It makes me feel like I'm doing something to take care of myself, what Beth Woolsey calls "radical acts of self care."    That alone is worth the price.  (Which is free.  I'm sorry, I can't tell if I'm being funny or just incomprehensible.)

How have you taken care of yourself lately?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Acting Like My Father

Years ago I saw a sitcom where one woman is accused of acting like her father.  "Oh my God," she gasps.  "I've been trying so hard to not become my mother--I never saw THAT coming!"  I laughed with recognition.

My words, my moods, my mannerisms--all my mom's.  Even the ways I'm not like her are defined by her.  "Mom would never let her kitchen get this messy."  And yet, my dad seeps through in odd moments.  My family sits down to eat dinner; I pop back up to turn out the lights in other rooms, and remember my dad doing the same.  I walk along slick pavement, and despite the cold, pull my hands out of my pockets "in case I fall," responding to a lifetime of warnings.  As a parent, I finally understand why sucking on the last bit of drink through my straw, or sniffing repeatedly without ever going to get a kleenex both drove him nuts.

My dad gave me many gifts. My love of mountains.  An appreciation for late afternoon's "sweet light."  Wanderlust.  He was a great model for how to maintain friendships and how to enjoy life's simple pleasure.  When I turned 18 he told me, "Vote for any party you want, but always support schools, parks, and libraries."  His quirks and talents and lessons are woven into my life.

As I started to learn about the concept of white privilege during the past few years, I've come to realize that I already was aware that it existed, because my suburban, middle-class white dad pointed it out to me throughout my life.  I knew his friend Nick didn't like to come visit us because in our neighborhood, he was likely to get pulled over for Driving While Black.  I knew that one of the only times my dad ventured from photography into writing was when his friend Max was mistaken for "a Jap" in a small Idaho town where they were covering a mining disaster, and was told to be out of town by sundown or be found face-down in a river.  (This was a good 15 years after WWII ended, and Max is actually Hispanic.)  My dad was outraged, and wanted to shine as much publicity on the event as possible.  He told me about attending high school in the late 1940s, and how the black kids came in the back door.  At the time, he figured everyone went in the doorway closer to their own neighborhood, but a few years out of high school, with a few years in the city newsroom under his belt, he wised up, and was ashamed of his complacent naivety.

"You know," I told him a few years ago, "some people think we don't have any more racism, because we elected Obama."

He sputtered for a moment.  "People are idiots!" he finally got out.  "Just because it's not a problem for THEM, they think it's not a problem."  Which is probably the most succinct definition of privilege there is.

Another time he sighed, "If I hate bigots, does that make me a bigot?"

He was a product of his time and place, as we all are.  He had his prejudices and blind spots, as we all do.  He strove to see people clearly, to value others as they are, and to not mistake his own experience for universal experience.   When he died last February, he left behind literally thousands of top notch photographs.  His more important legacy is what he taught his girls about being human.

With all four daughters at his 80th birthday 2012

Dancing with my mom at a friend's wedding ca. 2002

On a mountain climb ca: 1950

At an artist's reception 2012

Supervising my niece ca 1995

On a photography outing 2011

Us on top of Mt. Hood 1984

Dancing together at my friend's wedding 1990
This has been a "Finish the Sentence Friday" post.  The prompt was "The best advice my dad ever gave me..."  Link up here!